During my planning period when I was teaching fifth grade, I left my classroom and walked to the teachers’ workroom. At that time, my elementary school’s student enrollment was over a thousand students and the school’s long sprawling hallways reminded me of my own high school two decades prior. Consequently, the walk to the workroom used to take approximately 2 minutes. About half-way there, I passed a teacher verbally disciplining her students in the hallway outside the classroom. I glanced over at the three children and continued to the workroom where I spent about 7 to 10 minutes making Xerox copies and checking my mailbox.
As I walked back to my classroom, I passed the same teacher still reprimanding the same three kids. I gave the four of them more than a glance this time. The students’ eyes were glazed over, and they were clearly not listening. The conversation length was at least 10 minutes, and I can state with absolute confidence that that redirected conversation was long past the point of productive. (Pragmatically, I do not recommend discussing behavioral issues with more than one child at a time for several reasons. There are privacy issues, and there is safety and less accountability in numbers. It is always difficult to assign equal involvement to all three as well – depending on the incident, of course. Separating and addressing the children individually is universally more effective.)
In general, the mass number of student management redirections involving elementary students usually require a conversation that should be straight to the point. Otherwise, they will tune out the teacher or administrator as they frequently do with their own parents. In these situations, I have discovered the most effective means in redirecting a student is a 1 to 2 minute, four simple question scenario. The administrator/teacher must control the conversation at this point, and the conversation is not a negotiation.
“What did you choose to do?”
“What were you supposed to do?”
“Why was your behavior inappropriate?”
“What will you do next time?”
– Consequence, document and talk to parents, as necessary. Done!
I emphasize ‘choose’ in the initial sentence. I strongly believe that students need to be personally empowered – a student always chooses their conduct based on their own volition. I recommend the teacher/ administrator engage proactively and not reactively with the child in the immediate future after an incident has occurred. For example, it is highly effective to positively engage with the child the next morning and repeatedly throughout the school day with the intent to remind the student of the expectations that were previously discussed. This administrative proactive approach should continue for a number of days until it is not needed. The administrator is guiding the child to engage in appropriate behavior while simultaneously building a positive relationship out of a negative event! Lastly and importantly, if the child is making good choices, compliment the child on their positive choices.
Depending on the child, prior events and the severity of the incident, the teacher/administrator must make a decision whether or not to telephone the parent. The vast majority of time the parent needs to be contacted, but if the incident is so minor, empower the child to do the right thing in the future. If the situation requires parental contact, I strongly recommend connecting with the parent prior to the school dismissal bell or the child often presents an altered and more favorable version of the facts of the incident to their mother and father. It is also effective, if the teacher or administrator talk with the parent with the child present – listening and participating in the conversation, either in person or a conference call. In doing so, everyone is on the same page. Document and date the conversation in writing, and the child signs the document. It is not the parent, teacher or administrator choosing to not follow the set rules and expectations; it is the student’s sole choice.
I invariably relay the following declarative statement to the student in a calm and reassuring tone of voice, “We can’t change yesterday or what has already happened, but we can choose to change what occurs in the future.”
Furthermore, I recommend asking the child the following question, “Am I trying to help or hurt you, today?” Of course, the administrator and teacher are trying to help and guide the child for future success.
Finally, if an intermediate level student is struggling repeatedly with behavior, I often use this interrogative response, “How can I help you be successful?”
Several important things have occurred. First, there is a positive relationship bond that begins to form. The teacher and the administrator are trying to help the student, and it is acknowledged as such by the child. Second, the student chose to act inappropriately. No one made them act that way. It was the child’s choice. The teacher/principal is simply meting out the consequence – and proactively guiding the child to make better choices in the future.